Burglar Doesn't Need to Be Aware He Possesses Dangerous Weapon

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: criminal law, intent.

State of Minnesota v. Guillermo Garcia-Gutierrez, et al.. MN criminal law, intent

The five defendants in this case were charged with burglarizing a home in Shakopee, MN. Since there were five of them, the locked safe that they encountered apparently posed no deterrent. The five of them simply picked it up and carried it away. Apparently unbeknownst to them, the safe contained a .45 caliber handgun and ammunition. Later that night, Prior Lake Police responded to a report of an armed man slamming a box into the ground. Even though there's no law against slamming boxes into the ground, the suspicions of the officers were aroused. Subsequent investigation tied the five defendants in with the Shakopee break-in, and they were charged with burglary.

The Scott County Attorney charged the defendants with aggravated burglary. The aggravating element was that the defendants possessed a dangerous weapon, namely the handgun inside the safe, while in the building. The defendants moved to dismiss this charge, arguing that there was no evidence that they even knew about the gun until long gone from the scene of the burglary. The District Court, Scott County, agreed with this argument, and held that the defendant must knowingly possess a gun to be charged under this provision.

The State appealed this pretrial ruling, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Minnesota Supreme Court then agreed to review the case.

The Supreme Court held that the lower courts had erred. The statutory language was clear. The statute requires that the defendant knowingly be in the building illegally. But it does not impose an additional element that the defendant know that he or she is possessing the weapon. For these reasons, the Court reversed the lower courts' rulings and remanded the case for trial on the original charges.

Justices Wright and Page concurred in this ruling, but expressed reservations about the wisdom of the rule in this case.

No. No. A12-2012 (Minn. April 2, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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